If you’re just getting into collecting and using knives, it won’t be very long before you become aware of Spyderco. Every company has its fans and its detractors, but Spyderco seems to exist in a class by itself: whether it’s because of their commitment to functionality, their willingness to work with a variety of designers, or the sheer breadth of style in their product catalog, it seems like everybody in the knife community is a fan of at least one Spyderco blade.
That giant catalog can be confusing to newcomers. There are so many Spyderco knives that it can be hard to discern where to start or what to look for. There are websites, like the obsessively detailed Spydie Wiki, devoted solely to the collation and organization of all of Spyderco’s models. Even people with years of experience in the field have trouble keeping the different models and their various histories and specs in order.
I’m going to discuss what I consider to be five of the best Spyderco knives. But rather than ranking them, or just dubbing them the best overall, I’ve chosen five different styles or categories of knives, and picked the Spyderco knife that I think best fills each role. Those five categories are:
- Best hard-use knife: This is a larger knife designed for heavy duty tasks.
- Best mid-sized EDC: A knife for everyday tasks with a blade between 3” and 3.25”
- Best small EDC: A knife for everyday tasks with a blade between 2.5” and 2.9”
- Best tactical knife: A knife for self-defense.
- Best fixed blade: An all-purpose, non-folding knife.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best blades available on the market (and see how well they compare to the Spyderco knives we will discuss throughout today’s article):
|ESEE Knives 3P||$$$|
|SOG Flash II||$$|
|Ka-Bar Fighting Knife||$$|
|Kershaw Shuffle II||$|
|Spyderco Paramilitary 2||$$$|
Finding a Spyderco Knife That’s Best
This way I’m able to address different needs with different recommendations and make that overwhelmingly large catalog a little less intimidating.
So let’s jump right into it:
Best Hard Use Knife: Spyderco Paramilitary 2
The Paramilitary 2 is a permanent fixture in the Spyderco lineup. Since its release, it has been a touchstone for hard use knife design; I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a review of the knife that’s been anything other than full of praise, and I won’t buck that trend here today.
There are three things I look for in a hard-use knife: a comfortable handle, a durable lock, and good steel. The Paramilitary 2’s handle is about as good as it gets on a folding knife: quite large, with a forward half-and-half finger choil that allows you to choke up on the blade for extra control. Personally, I find the Paramilitary 2’s handle to be the best on any knife I’ve ever used.
The lock is Spyderco’s proprietary Compression Lock. It looks like a liner lock on the back of the knife, but the way in which the spring leaf is designed, and the way it fits against the tang of the blade and the stop pin, make it much more durable than your average liner lock or even, I would argue, a framelock.
The steel on the standard model is S30V. This is a first generation super steel. I would like to see this upgraded soon, but S30V is still a good steel. The problem people have with it is that it can chip fairly easily, but Spyderco runs their S30V a little soft to prevent that from happening, making it a durable, reliable steel for a durable, reliable knife.
If you want something more exotic, though, there are a ton of sprint runs (limited editions) of the Paramilitary with all sorts of wild steel; just be prepared to pay a premium over the standard model’s $120 asking price.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
|1) Spyderco Tenacious|
|2) Kershaw Cryo II|
|3) Opinel No.7|
|4) Gerber Paraframe|
|5) Kershaw Knockout|
Best Mid-Sized EDC: Spyderco Native 5 Lightweight
The Native 5 has an interesting history: it was originally designed to be sold in Wal-Mart as an entry-level Spyderco. Those days are very much in the past now, but thankfully the Native 5 has stuck around as an alternative to the more commonly seen Delica 4. I’ve always found it to be a better knife and, with the newest 2015 version, it went from excellent to astounding.
Like the Paramilitary 2, the Native 5 features a forward choil and an excellent handle in FRN (as opposed to the Paramilitary’s G-10). Nobody does FRN texturing like Spyderco, and the bi-directional texturing on the Native 5 will keep it locked in your hand during use. The leaf-shaped blade is a classic Spyderco shape, perfect for just about any task you can expect to use your EDC for, and the stainless steel liners and sturdy lockback make this a medium-sized knife you can rely on.
The newest Native 5 LW comes with S35VN steel. S35VN was a direct upgrade to S30V, and is less brittle and easier to sharpen. This would be a great steel on a $150 dollar knife; the Native 5 LW costs $80. There is, it should be said, a version of the Native 5 with blue scales and S110V steel. It costs $110, which is still a steal, but I think the base model is where it’s at; I find it hard to believe anybody would be disappointed with S35VN – or, for that matter, this knife in general.
Best Small EDC: Spyderco Dragonfly 2
Spyderco has something of a line in small EDC blades that perform like full-sized ones. They call it their “Little Big Knife” design paradigm, and the Dragonfly 2 was one of the first, and is still the best, embodiment of Little Big Knife design.
The Dragonfly 2’s biggest trick, as discussed at length in this appraisal, is to use the classic Spyderco forward finger choil to give users a full four-finger grip in a knife class that usually accommodates three at best. This means more comfort and control, and means that you can use the Dragonfly 2 harder and for longer without any hotspots or cramping.
In particular I recommend the ZDP-189 version. ZDP-189 is an exotic Japanese super steel. It can reach very high levels of hardness, meaning that the cutting bevel can be very acute, which means that cutting performance is incredible; the Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189 is the best slicing knife on this list, and that’s saying something considering that all five of these blades are great performers. ZDP-189 will also stay sharp for much, much longer than the VG-10 on the standard model.
The Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189 costs $75. The standard VG-10 model will run you about $50; I think it’s worth the jump in price for the additional performance, but really any model of the Dragonfly 2 will impress you with its utility.
Best Tactical Knife: Spyderco Military
It looks like the tactical knife fad is beginning to subside somewhat, but self-defense is still an important consideration for many knife users when they choose what they want to carry.
Any knife can be used for self-defense, even something as small as the Dragonfly 2, but certain knives are designed with that purpose in mind. The Military is one such offering from Spyderco, and one of the best tactical knives around.
The Military looks like a bigger Paramilitary, which is both accurate and misleading. Its sweeping 4” is clearly similar, but by being elongated it gains increased slashing/slicing and piercing ability. The handle is similarly larger, and superbly comfortable too. You can hold the Military in any number of grips without any discomfort. Big knives are easier to design comfortable handles for, but you’d be surprised at how often knife companies mess it up by getting too elaborate; Spyderco has kept the Military’s handle plain and it’s all the better for it.
The Military has a liner lock. This is theoretically weaker than the Compression Lock on the Paramilitary 2 (which is one reason why I recommend the smaller knife for harder use), but it’s still strong. The steel choice on the stock Military is S30V. Similar to the Paramilitary 2, the Military comes in a variety of sprint runs with different steels, but I think that for the tactical role edge retention is paramount, and S30V doesn’t disappoint in that category.
The Military costs $150, and for that price you get a sturdy, reliable, comfortable knife, and a classic interpretation of the nebulous term ‘tactical blade.’
Best Fixed Blade Knife: Spyderco Aqua Salt
It’s not exactly fair to assign just one knife to represent the entirety of Spyderco’s fixed blade collection. As with the term ‘folding knife,’ ‘fixed blade’ is more of a spectrum than strictly a category, and different needs will require different fixed blades.
Even so, I wanted to choose a single blade to represent the quality and creativity you find across all of Spyderco’s fixed blades, as well as one that is useful for a wide variety of tasks; and so I chose the Aqua Salt.
Although the Aqua Salt is technically designed to be used in and around water, its simple modified sheepsfoot blade actually make it a great all-purpose utility knife. It can cut rope, break down boxes, make feather sticks, do light batoning – really, any task a fixed blade knife might be called upon to do; it is a gloriously task neutral blade shape.
The steel choice is what makes the Aqua Salt particularly interesting. H-1 is a steel that uses Nitrogen instead of Carbon, meaning that it is virtually rustproof, making any knife made from it an excellent choice for survival in the wilderness, where tools need to be as reliable and easy to maintain as possible. But even in less extreme circumstances, H-1 is a decent performer, and rust resistance really takes it to the next level.
The Aqua Salt costs $100. For that price you get a blade that represents the charm and usefulness of Spyderco’s fixed blade knife designs – and beyond that a great knife in and of itself.
These fives knives, for as different as they are, are all clearly Spyderco blades. There’s a certain something about a Spyderco design that makes it instantly recognizable. And once you’re able to recognize that something, you begin to understand why people talk the way they do about this knife company.
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